Lucca surroundings

Adv.

Lucca surroundings

 

After visiting Lucca, if you still have time, take a visit to the surrounding countryside and walk along the "Via delle Ville", to discover the most beautiful villas of the territory. The Lucchese countryside is indeed adorned with many elegant homes, built by wealthy families of local merchants. The architects, who built the palaces for some of the great families in the city, were also in charge of the construction of their luxurious country villas.

The main villas are about 10 kilometers from Lucca and were built in 1500 and modified over time, with the addition of staircases, balconies, terraces, statues and gardens. Available to visit (at the time of writing, but it is always best to check) are Villa Mansi in Segromigno, Villa Torrigiani in Camigliano (Baroque), Villa Grabau and Villa Reale in Marlia. Often in winter visits are by appointment and it is always best to call to find out the opening hours, which vary according to the seasons.

My favorite is Villa Reale in Marlia, where at the beginning of the 1800s, Elisa Bonaparte satisfied her desire to purchase the neighboring properties, creating refined rooms and expansive, scenic parkland. The complex of buildings is surrounded by high walls and lies at the foot of a plateau. The property covers an area of ​​about 16 hectares. In addition to the main building, some beautiful historical residences are located in the park which, as mentioned, were bought at a later stage. These include the Palazzina dell'Orologio, with its panoramic ‘loggia’ and the Villa del Vescovo. Near the latter is the so-called "Cave of Pan" the Nymphaeum, a covered space that functioned as a cool refuge from the summer heat. The princess turned the existing villa into something truly exceptional: with its neoclassical style and elegant rooms, you will experience vast parkland with landscaped gardens, sloping down to a pond, cleverly surrounded by trees and plants whose colours change depending on the seasons. The park is crossed by avenues of camellias and houses two theatres, the Acqua and to Verzura. In the latter, the famous violinist Niccolo Paganini used to perform for Princess Elisa. The Giardino dei Limoni (Garden of Lemons), with the "sculpture of " Leda and the Swan" is particularly lovely, as well as the Giardino Spagnolo, in its Deco style.

In 1923 the property was purchased by the Count and Countess Pecci-Blunt, who commissioned a French architect of fame, Jacques Greber, to restore the park and gardens. He created forests, streams, and the lake that you see today, all adding to the sense of romance offered by the location. The American artist John Singer Sargent and later, in 1932, Alberto Moravia stayed here, as well as in 1936, Salvador Dali. For flower lovers, it is worth mentioning the camellias which are grown in the villas and gardens of the Compitese area. Every year in March, these are out in full bloom, coinciding with a fair-market for this beautiful plant.

Other areas surrounding Lucca that are worth visiting are: Nozzano, a small village with a castle dating to 1300, Borgo a Mozzano, a picturesque village on the road to Garfagnana, also famous for the humpback bridge dating back to 1000, the Ponte della Maddalena (also known as Ponte del Diavolo - Devil's Bridge) that crosses the river Serchio; Bagni di Lucca, a beautiful spa town which has been a destination for European artists for centuries and loved by English tourists; Barga , a beautiful city with well-preserved and picturesque steep streets and home to many cultural events.

Also to discover is Garfagnana, the mountainous area of the province of Lucca, with mountains, hills and meadows, marked by the River Serchio and several very characteristic hilltop villages. There is so much natural and artistic beauty to this area, for more information please refer to the section on Garfagnana. Other beautiful places and so dear to Puccini are Torre del Lago and the Versilia, with its famous beaches, nightlife, carnival and love of art and culture.

Garfagnana

Garfagnana is the mountainous area in the province of Lucca and the area offers a wide variety of landscapes: Rocky Mountains in the Apuan Alps, Apennines, gentler hills and meadows descending into valleys. The area is marked by the river Serchio and is dotted with villages, parks, caves and other areas of natural beauty. Here are some of the main attractions:
 
Cultural attractions

Devil's bridge

This quaint medieval bridge is located in the town of Borgo a Mozzano and connects two banks of the river Serchio. Built by Matilda of Canossa, for centuries this bridge has served as one of the few places where it is possible to cross the river towards Garfagnana. For this reason, it has held an important strategic function. It is shaped like a donkey's back and majestically rises above the waters of the river. The reference to the devil in its name comes from a legend, passed down in various versions of the story. It is said that the person responsible for building it, encountered difficulties in its construction. Realising that he would not be able to finish the work by the specified date, the devil offered him a deal. The latter would complete the job in one night, but in return would take the soul of the first person to cross the bridge. The devil kept his promise and the man, full of remorse, went to confession. The priest advised him to respect the pact, but to let a pig cross the bridge first. And so, the Devil mocked by these events, disappeared and was never seen again.
 
Barga

Barga, just 35 km from Lucca, is a beautiful resort, perfectly restored, and much loved by the British, many of which have relocated there permanently. Of particular interest is the Cathedral of San Cristoforo, located at the top of the village, offering sweeping views of the surrounding mountains; the Church of the crucifix and the old town with its beautiful streets and Renaissance palaces; the Teatro dei Rassicurati; restaurants, many wineries and craft shops.

Castelvecchio Pascoli
 A small town famous for the home of the poet Giovanni Pascoli, who lived here until the early 1900, now transformed into a museum.

Castelnuovo Garfagnana

A small town located 45 km from Lucca, famous for its rock where Ludovico Ariosto lived during the 16th century, then Governor on behalf of the Este family. See also St. Peter's Cathedral and the old town as a whole.

Castiglione di Garfagnana
This interesting medieval village has preserved walls, towers and some remaining parts     of its walkway. See the Church of San Michele and San Pietro.

Vetriano
A small town near Colognora in Garfagnana, famous for the smallest theatre in Italy.

Celle dei Puccini

Ancestral home of the great composer Giacomo Puccini, the town holds an interesting museum where you can find memorabilia from the musician’s family history.

Bagni di Lucca

A famous spa founded between the late 800s and the beginning of the 1900s as a place of residence for artists, writers and aristocrats from all over Europe, mainly British.  Today the Anglican Church and the English Cemetery remain as a testimony to this period. Aside from its expansive river and incredible scenery, it has many architecturally valuable buildings and villas just outside the city centre.  For more information, see our online guide dedicated to Bagni di Lucca.

Coreglia Antelminelli

This town situated at an altitude of 600 metres is known for its museum of chalk figurines, displaying some of the most important specimens of this ancient craft. Along these are documents and memories from the inhabitants of these areas.

Ghivizzano

This small village, situated in a panoramic position, has a medieval Castle Tower dating back to the 1100s.

Gallicano

A village located at the bottom of the Serchio valley. The village has several palaces of interest. 

San Pellegrino in Alpe

This small village is situated at an altitude of 1500 meters in the Apennines. It has a characteristic mountain church and a local museum. On a clear day you can see a panoramic view from here. 
 
Natural attractions

Wind Cave

The Wind Cave is located in the village of Fornovolasco. The cave consists of a large cavity only discovered in 1964. The location provides enthusiasts with a well-equipped 4 km of tunnels, various calcareous concretions, a constant temperature of 10.7 degrees Centigrade and experienced geologists who will guide you through this underground world, carved by water over millions of years. The limestone caves have been carved over millennia and have led to the formation of gigantic stalactites and stalagmites. The underground landscape is really impressive, made from ponds, streams, mud and even perfectly vertical wells. Guided tours last 1, 2 or 3 hours. The gift shop sells geological souvenirs and has a well-stocked book shop and refreshment bar.

The submerged village

Heading towards the Serchio from Castelnuovo, as you turn towards the Apuan Alps, is the Vagi Lake. This lake is known for its village, submerged by Fabbriche di Careggine, which resurfaces every 10 years when the lake basin is cleaned.
 
Orecchiella Park

This nature reserve of 50 square kilometers is dedicated to the preservation of local fauna and flora. Many wild animals live here, such as the Apennine wolf, eagles, deer and the brown bear. Visitors can stay overnight inside the park, in simple structures surrounded by nature. For more information, contact the visitor’s centre.

Parco delle Apuane

The Park is spread over 500 square kilometers between the Tyrrhenian coast and the Serchio valley. The scenery on the Lucchese side consists of the Rocky Mountains and green valleys with forests. Numerous caves and caverns can be visited, such as the Corchia Cavern, carved by underground water. For more information contact the Apuan Alps Centre.
 
Versilia and Viareggio

The Versilia coast is part of  the province of Lucca. The area is famous for its great beaches and relaxed lifestyle, although several towns such as Pietrasanta have recently emphasised their cultural tourism. The history of bathing was born right here in the second half of the 19th century, with the construction of the first bathing establishments. The pinewoods situated behind the beaches are extensive and well-maintained – an area of shelter from the summer heat. The most famous of these is the Parco della Versiliana, Marina di Pietrasanta, 80 acres of lush landscaping, which hosts cultural events such as its festival of the same name.

In Versilia there are many places to visit such as:

Forte di Marmi

A famous holiday resort, with wide sandy beaches, lovely walks, trendy restaurants, clubs, boutiques and nightclubs frequented historically by many celebrities. Here you can find the famous Capannina di Franceschi nightclub. The name of the town comes from the Fort, built by Grand Duke Peter Leopold in 1700 AD, situated right in the town’s centre. It was built to defend the port and its fine marble, transported from the Apuane Alps. Inside the Fort is the museum of satire and caricature, one of the most important museums of its kind in the world. The Roma Imperiale neighbourhood is famous its many villas designed by famous architects as Giovanni Michelucci and Giò Ponti. Here you will find Villa Agnelli, a summer residence opened in 1929, with an underpass leading directly to the sea.

Camaiore

Camaiore is situated 8 km from the coast and has over 30 thousand inhabitants. The city preserves many artistic treasures within its city walls such as the famous Collegiate Church and the Benedictine Abbey.

Lido di Camaiore

This well-equipped and modern seaside resort, with its long beach 4 km and elegant promenade (Viale Europa), enjoys a wealth of beaches, bars and cafés, shops and restaurants. It also has a very pleasant Pontoon ‘Bellavista Vittoria’, where you can have a walk, enjoy a bite to eat and take in the sea views and Apuan Alps in the distance.

Pietrasanta

This picturesque town has a beautiful old centre with ancient streets, such as Via del Riccetto which is paved with river stones, or Via della Fontanella. World famous for its nearby Apuane marble and bronze, the town has always welcomed international sculptors and artists for work or pleasure. Thanks to these artists, who often settled here, Pietrasanta has become a true city of art. Worth visiting is the Musdeo dei Bozzetti (Sketches Museum), with models of local bronze sculptures from the mid-19th century to the present day. Several sculptures of important local celebrity include: Franco Adami, Fernando Botero, Pietro Cascella, Girolamo Ciulla, Jean-Michel Folon, Igor Mitoraj, Kan Yasuda ... There are numerous art galleries, events and exhibitions, many outdoors, especially in Piazza del Duomo and the Church of St. Augustine. Next to the church, in the cloister, is the local cultural centre. Besides the Cathedral, it is worth visiting the Bell Tower, the Rocchetta Arrighina, as well as l’Arco di Porta a Pisa. The city also has a network of underground tunnels and strategic defensive works, such as the city walls.  Visible from the square, these are reachable thanks to a walking route which ends at the Rocca di Sala.

Viareggio

The capital of Versilia is a city of about 60 thousand inhabitants. It dates from the first half of the 1500s, when it was the only sea view in the Republic of Lucca. The oldest building of the city, the Torre Matilde, is a defensive fortification built by Viareggio in 1541 to counter incursions by Corsairs. The city is home to several interesting Art Nouveau buildings. One such is Piazza Percy Bysshe Shelley, named after the famous English writer and philosopher, who drowned off the beaches of the town in 1822. The town is famous, not only for its tourist industry, but also for its international Literacy Prize and its Carnival. The latter, which began in 1873, is characterized by its huge papier-mâché floats which parade along the "promenade". Puccini was at home here: he ate at the Margherita restaurant, at the window overlooking the beach; he met friends here such as D'Annunzio, Marconi and Toscanini.

Torre del Lago Puccini

6 km from Viareggio is Torre del Lago, with its famous marina and beautiful Lecciona beach, along with many restaurants and pubs. Giacomo Puccini lived here from 1891 until his death (he died in Brussels where he went to be treated). In this place of peace and harmony, he composed many of his most famous operas. The composer purchased a house in Torre del Lago in 1898, on the slopes of Lake Massaciuccoli. Villa Puccini is richly decorated inside, has a rectangular shape and is now a museum which also houses the remains of the musician, his wife, son and daughter-in-law in a private chapel. The Puccini Festival is held in summer, hosted in the theatre by the lake, right in front of the composer’s home. It is the most important open air theatre in Tuscany. In the original theatre, the Festival of Torre del Lago was held, which became a huge success, thanks to its famous exhibitions and the participation of some of the most illustrious names of the opera world. Also worth visiting is the Villa Borbone, built by Lorenzo Nottolini for Maria Luisa of Bourbon in the 18th century along Viale dei Tigli, (most Bourbon-Parma Princes are buried here), which leads from Viareggio to Torre del Lago and the Church of San Giuseppe.

Massaciuccoli

This is a great place to walk, both for its flora and fauna and for its bird watching; it comprises a large protected area which also includes the Park of Migliarino and Tenuta di San Rossore. From the main jetty, even the less experienced can admire many beautiful birds in their habitat. Just don't make noise...

Seravezza

This municipality is divided into several areas, with a pleasant centre including Serravezza square and many shops. Worth visiting is the Medici Villa, the summer residence of the Medici family, the popular culture museum, the library, the historical archives and the exhibition spaces. We recommend the Church of Santi Lorenzo e Barbara and the Oratorio della Santissima Annunziata.

Stazzema

Stazzema consists of small villages, situated far apart from each other on the surrounding hills, similar to Garfagnana. Of interest is the main village clock tower from the 1500s, the fountain from the 1700s and the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Within walking distance is the sanctuary of Madonna del Bell'Amore or Piastraio in the woods of Stazzema. The church is now closed to the faithful, but was once the destination for many pilgrimages. You can reach it by following a short path in the vicinity of the Church of Santa Maria delle Nevi in Stazzema or using the trail that starts from Mulina. From Stazzema, there are many trails for hikers, which ascend towards the Apuan Alps. The county is infamous for the massacre that took place here near the end of World War II. On the 12 August 1944, the small hamlet of Sant'Anna di Stazzema witnessed a terrible crime against humanity. A German SS Division killed 560 people and burned their bodies, 130 of these were children. The full horror of the massacre was revealed to the international community when Judge Antonino Intelisano, during his investigations on war crimes, discovered documents about the incident in a Rome archive; for years these had been hushed up. In 2000 a National Peace Park, memorial and museum were opened, dedicated to the terrible event.

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